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Spencer Ludwig edits on a new MacBook Pro
Spencer Ludwig edits on a new MacBook Pro
Photo by Brooks Kraft / Apple

Apple’s new MacBook Pros have the latest Intel processors and quieter keyboards

Slightly more than just spec bumps

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Apple is updating its top-tier MacBook Pros today with newer processors, more configuration options, True Tone displays, and a “quieter” keyboard design. The updates won’t fully address all of the concerns that have surrounded the MacBook Pro lineup in recent months. At least one complaint can be laid to rest for the time being: the processor options are no longer woefully out of date. Apple says that the 15-inch model will have a 70 percent performance increase, and the 13-inch model should double in speed.

The only laptops getting updates are the most expensive models, the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros with Touch Bars. There are no updates to the base 13-inch MacBook Pro model (which the community has taken to calling “MacBook Escape” because it has a real Esc key). There are no updates to the MacBook or the MacBook Air either.

Image: Apple

For the Pro models, these updates are more than just spec bumps to the latest processor. But they’re not radical redesigns either. The 15-inch MacBook Pro gets the more impressive bump. It will come with a 6-core, eighth-generation i7 or i9 Intel processor and the ability to spec up the RAM to 32GB of DDR4 memory and the storage to 4TB. The top-line processors can run at 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, and the GPUs are Radeon Pros with 4GB of video memory. A fully specced-out 15-inch model costs an eye-popping $6,699, but the base model is keeping the same price as before at $2,399.

The 13-inch model gets quad-core i5 or i7 chips, with clock speeds ranging up to 2.7GHz / 4.5GHz Turbo Boost. That’s paired to the usual Intel Iris 655 integrated graphics with 128MB of eDRAM. Storage can be configured up to 2TB. Pricing for the base model here also stays the same at $1,799.

In both cases, the battery capacity has been increased to compensate for the extra power draw from the new processors and RAM. Apparently, the bigger batteries and the thirstier chips will end up canceling each other out. Apple says that it’s not changing its battery life estimates for these machines. The port configuration is, of course, staying the same: four Thunderbolt / USB-C ports and a headphone jack.

Beyond the specs, these laptops have a few more Apple-specific features worth talking about. They’ll come with True Tone displays, which allows the screen to change its color temperature based on the color temperature of the room. The Touch Bar will also support True Tone. That will be nice, but I suspect some pro users might have been happier with a bump in resolution. Of course, Apple still considers touchscreens to be anathema on laptops.

These will also be Apple’s first laptops to support “Hey Siri,” which will allow you to invoke the digital assistant by speaking instead of hitting a specific key combo. That feature — as well as many of the security and Touch Bar features in the MacBook Pros — is powered by a specialized chip Apple calls “T2.”

Apple is also releasing official leather sleeves for the MacBook Pro lineup following the introduction of the same product for the 12-inch MacBook last year. The sleeves will come in black, brown, and dark blue.

Image: Apple

And then there are the keyboards, which rank right up with #donglelife as the thing people seem most worried about with the current generation of MacBooks. The design of the keyboard on these MacBook Pros has changed but not in the way that many were hoping. Apple calls it a “third-generation” butterfly keyboard, but the main change between these laptops and the last generation is that they’re quieter.

We got only minutes (and no more) to interact with the new hardware. So at best, I can tell you that the keyboard does seem quite a bit less clacky than current MacBooks, though key travel is the same.

That’s all for the good, but it’s not what people are worried about. Instead, it’s just hard to trust a keyboard after so many reports that it can be rendered inoperable by a grain of sand and that is incredibly difficult and expensive to repair or replace. This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base. (There’s now a four-year repair program for the keyboard in case it fails.)

When we asked Apple representatives at the event exactly how the keyboard was changed to make it quieter, they declined to specify.

Aaron Axelrod, multimedium artist.
Aaron Axelrod, multimedium artist.
Photo by Brooks Kraft / Apple

Yesterday’s briefing was similar to how Apple rolled out the iMac Pro in December: guests were flown in to talk about how they use their Macs. We spent much more time hearing stories about how these pros use their Macs than we did talking about speeds and feeds.

We heard how the Mac was integral in creating 3D animations of HIV, creating the video for “Despacito,” analyzing air pollution data, creating public art installations, hit singles, and apps for people with Down syndrome. We watched a trumpet solo get mixed into a new song and heard about Oak Felder’s process of going from a scratch track to a hit single. It was a lot.

In each of the dozen demos, the focus wasn’t so much on the power of these new MacBooks, but instead on the idea that the Mac platform is the linchpin of a vibrant and capable ecosystem that enables creators to create things. The fact that these new laptops are faster just meant that they could create things with less hassle, basically.

The theme is part and parcel of how Apple is talking about the Mac lately: doubling down on the idea that it’s a great tool for professionals and insisting that it has a bright future. Look no further than its “Behind the Mac” ad campaign that’s running now for more examples of this focus.

A full court press to prove Apple is committed to the Mac

Taken together, it feels like a full court press to ensure the message that Apple is still committed to the Mac comes through. You might be tempted to think that Apple doth protest too much, but there have been genuine questions about that very issue. There are plenty of things that have spooked the Mac faithful: the ever-lengthening months between Mac product updates, the recent issues with the MacBook keyboards, and, above all, the company’s emphasis on the iPhone.

Add in the fact that iOS apps are coming to the Mac soon, and it’s no surprise that Craig Federighi had to get onstage at WWDC in June and emphatically say “No” to the question about macOS and iOS merging.

Updating the top-tier Mac laptops goes some way toward alleviating those fears, and we’ll be eager to put these new machines through their paces once we receive review units. But we’re even more eager to see Apple do something with the rest of the lineup. The Mac Pro is still due for 2019, for example.

But the Mac’s biggest consumer success wasn’t in the pro market. It was in the 13-inch MacBook Air, a laptop that was, for years, the best computer for most people. Despite Apple’s best efforts, nothing it’s made recently has been a worthy heir to that throne, and PC makers have been all too happy to try to fill that gap. And that’s to say nothing of Chromebooks taking over the education market.

Color me convinced: Apple is committed to the Mac for professionals. But those of us who have never thought twice about how many processor cores are in our computers, we are still waiting for what’s next.